Welcome, Jon Steinhagen!

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Jon Steinhagen, whose collection The Big Book of Sounds and Other Stories will be published next summer.

The Author

Jon Steinhagen 2Jon Steinhagen is a Chicago-based author, playwright, composer/lyricist, and actor. He has been a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists since 2008 and has received four Joseph Jefferson Awards and eleven nominations for his work in Chicago theater. His stories have appeared in many print and online literary journals, while his plays “Blizzard ’67” and “Successors” and musicals “The Teapot Scandals” and “Emma & Company” have been produced nationally. He received the Julie Harris Award for Playwriting in 2009 for “The Analytical Engine” and was an awarded finalist for the Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission in 2013 for “Devil’s Day Off”. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America and company member of Signal Ensemble Theatre.


The Book

“I Want This Always” began as a juxtaposition of words that you wouldn’t typically see paired: “The Wind Catalog.” I often do this; purposely mixing up phrases or substituting words in descriptions, products, publications, etc. My challenge is to back up my experiments with meaningful and entertaining content. “I Want This Always,” then, established a world where such a catalog exists, asks questions, and then shows general and specific examples of where such fantasies might lead if taken seriously. As a collection, The Big Book of Sounds offers many entries in wordplay that inspired narratives of people searching for things they didn’t realize they needed to search for. The title story of the collection, for instance, is narrated by the lover of the person who is trying to write and collate the impossible “Big Book” of sounds, and the emotional pitfalls they experience during its writing.



“I Want This Always,” from The Big Book of Sounds by Jon Steinhagen
“A man named Hellison orders a #35.
# 35 – A strong lakeside zephyr, northerly, fresh with midnight and prom corsages and charter boat thrusting through the dark waves. On the cold side; give her your coat. Vintage 1987.
Hellison tells no one, not even his wife. Hellison waits. Hellison has second thoughts about blowing twenty-five bucks on what is obviously a hoax. Hellison waits. Hellison is home when the box is delivered. Hellison is surprised to read the simple instructions: Place this canister in the corner of the room in which you wish to experience it, open it, sit down, close your eyes, and enjoy.
Hellison goes to the guest bedroom he used to use as a study until he discovered he had nothing to study and puts the canister in the corner, opens it, sits, and closes his eyes.
The six of them are emerging from the limousine and are walking down the stone staircase to the river and there is so much wonder in the city tonight and everything is all set and another six are meeting them and how grown-up it is to be tuxedoed and shiny and sharp and the girls looking like elegant Christmas gifts and Sharon is never letting herself be not arm in arm with him and her dress is strapless and her shoulders are smooth and this is the well he’s lost count time she’s kissed him tonight with her mouth open and all of them are boarding the boat and how rich they feel how elegant and special and rare and no one can stop talking all of us all of us boys are self-conscious we pat our moussed hair and tug at the sharp starchy points of our dress shirts and the girls are as inviting as pillows with satin covers and the boat churns into the Chicago River and the buildings the grand places of living and working reach for the black sky and there is a feeling of I Want This I Want This Always and we glide under the Michigan Avenue Bridge and midnight people wave to us and yes we are special and rare and wonderful and we are out on the lake bobbling along in freedom and release from the land and all of us all six couples maybe seven are finding private spots along the rail and looking out looking out and it is all dark and behind us now the city looking like a land of amusement parks and Sharon is kissing me or maybe I am kissing her oh no this is a mutual kiss these are mutual kisses and they are long and warm and she shudders and my coat is off and around her shoulders and that makes her want me even more and the boat is silent except for the engine pushing us through the black mysterious water along the shore and then soon too soon back to the river and up the stone steps and back into the waiting limousine and back to the expressway and back to our suburb and back to our houses dropped off one by one by one and no reason to think of that now because out here with Sharon in my coat pressed against me and nothing but lips and necks and searching hands and the waves and the endless darkness of the water and the sky and we are special I am special I am rare I Want This Always.”